For 2011 B-School Grads, a Low-Key Send-Off

Advice from Albert W. Niemi Jr., dean of SMU's Cox School of Business, to graduating students.

By Francesca Di Meglio

Few corporate leaders have as rapt an audience as they do when they speak at commencement, that great rite of spring when graduates get to reflect on the academic life they're leaving behind and the challenges and opportunities ahead. And this year's crop of B-school graduation speakers is no exception. With the job outlook for both college business majors and MBAs improving, the tone this year was generally optimistic -- with a healthy dose of reality thrown in for good measure.

The thread that brings together many of the recent graduation speeches is a call to action, a suggestion to look long and hard in the mirror, take stock of the post-crisis world, and move forward as the type of leader who does not seek followers but rather helps cultivate new leaders. . .

The question of value -- what graduates should be bringing to the table as they forge their new careers -- came up in many graduation speeches. Most of the speechmakers seemed to agree that kindness of heart, humility, and a thirst for knowledge should be at the top of every businessperson's resume.

"Here's a little advice on how to advance your career and become a leader. Work hard. It's a very competitive world now that demands hard work to insure reaching your goals," said Albert W. Niemi Jr., dean of Southern Methodist University's Cox School of Business (Cox Full-Time MBA Profile) at its May 14 graduation. "Maintain your ethical values. You only get one reputation in life, so guard it well. Never stop learning. Education is a journey that never ends. And treat folks right. Treat the custodians like you would treat the CEO."

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